Rio Hondo finishes off sweep of Sinton

BEEVILLE — It was an unforgettable softball playoff game featuring so many turns in momentum and decisive moments.

In the end Saturday, the Rio Hondo Lady Bobcats came up with two runs during the top of the ninth inning to prevail over Sinton 8-6 and sweep their Class 4A regional quarterfinal best-of-three series with the Lady Pirates.

The series sweep advances District 32-4A champion Rio Hondo (26-10-1) to the coming week’s regional semifinals against Fredericksburg.

Because of the threat of wet weather, Saturday’s originally scheduled game at Sinton was moved to the artificial turf softball field in Beeville. As it turned out, there was no rain, only some overcast skies and cooler temperatures.

Rio Hondo opened the series Friday at home and defeated the Lady Pirates 6-4 to set the stage for Saturday’s extra-inning, back-and-forth thriller that took nine innings and the better part of three hours to decide.

Beating District 31-4A champion Sinton (29-8), the fifth-ranked 4A team in the state, seemed almost too good to be true for the Lady Bobcats.

But yes, it was real.

“This game was just a fight all the way to the end,” said Lady Bobcats senior pitcher Erika Cortez, who went the distance for the mound victory with 12 strikeouts and four walks while allowing 11 hits. “We had to have faith in God. We knew if we had faith and believed in Him anything would be possible, so all the glory goes to Him all day.

“This feels amazing to me,” Cortez added. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been to the fourth round, so it’s pretty emotional. We couldn’t have done it without all these girls working together.

“Today was one of the best games ever. Honestly, it was one of the most inspirational games I’ve ever played. It was magical.”

Sinton led 2-0 after one inning and 3-0 after three. Rio Hondo came up with a three-run top of the fourth to tie things at 3 before the Lady Pirates went up 5-3 after four.

The Lady Bobcats were ahead 6-5 after the top of the fifth before a solo homer over the left-field wall by Haley Smith, Sinton’s No. 9 batter and pitcher, brought the score even again at 6.

Sinton threatened with bases loaded two times during the bottom of the eighth, but Cortez displayed her resolve by prevailing against the final two Lady Pirates coming to the plate in the inning on full-count strikeouts to keep her opponents scoreless.

“Erika is just as advertised,” Rio Hondo coach Brett Esparza said of his standout pitcher. “She’s money.”

Then it was Rio Hondo’s turn during the top of the ninth.

The Lady Bobcats’ Dominique De Jesus led off with a single to left field. Teammate Alexis Ryhner moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt before Kelsey Pizarro reached base on a high throw to first by the Sinton third baseman.

The errant throw to first allowed De Jesus to come home on the play, making it 7-6 for Rio Hondo. Abbie Torris, the next batter, followed with an RBI single to plate Pizarro for a two-run lead.

Sinton only sent three batters to the plate during the bottom of the ninth, with none of them reaching base. In fact, two of them struck out and the other flied out to first.

Then it was time for Rio Hondo’s victory celebration to begin.

“This game had a lot of ups and downs, but we fought so hard,” said Torris, a sophomore catcher. “We showed some teeth to keep going. I’m just so proud of us. I think now we’re just going to keep fighting in the playoffs.”

Added Savanna Gonzalez, a sophomore left fielder, “At this moment, I’m really happy for my team. I think if we can just have confidence and believe we can go really far, we will. I know we can go on. We just need to stick together on our team and keep doing well. We’ve worked so hard to get to this moment, and I’m so proud of everyone.”

Esparza was all smiles, too.

“I’m just overcome with emotion,” he said. “We believe in this team so much, and they’re so young that we’re learning about ourselves every week. We know we need to get better, and we’re up to the task week in and week out.

“We knew we would be somewhere in this (third) round with an opportunity to play ourselves into the next one,” he added. “That’s a tremendous softball team over there (in Sinton). They hit the ball very well early, but we settled down and got hits when we needed them. It was a complete team effort, and I just couldn’t feel any prouder of this group.”